La Mama Theatre, Faraday Street Carlton, 6 x Sundays from May 20th at 2pm TO BOOK CLICK HERE to read my bullsh*t scroll down

Thursday, May 24, 2012

The Un-Reviewable

I have (again) tried to make something critic-proof.

I have had a hunch for a while that Un-Reviewable theatre was probably good theatre.

It sometimes feels like critics rock up to something, they watch it, it appeals to certain terms of reference and doesn't to others, then they go home and write about it, and they often feel a bit shit about themselves because they have to say it sucked, mostly because it didn't break new ground. Or if it happens to have the resources and/or the nouse to successfully sit on the cutting edge of contemporary theatre, they can review it positively because it sits in the space where "progress" lies. And then they're like "thank god".

It should be no surprise that within this admittedly bullshit binary a good idea to look for a third option, as the first is not good for anyone and the second only really works if you're the latest wunderkind, or trying to be.

Therefore to try to create Un-Reviewable theatre is both to try to protect oneself from that shit feeling when you get a bad review, and also to operate outside of convention.

The No-Show which I did last year was like this because I honestly did not care at the time what critics, or to a degree audiences, thought, beyond a certain humanism that didn't want the experience to be painful for anyone. This was because No-Show was a real event and I was living it at the time. So it's defense against criticism was that it wasn't really theatre, it was just reality. How do you criticise reality? You can't. You can only criticise falsity. To criticise reality is kind of like criticising a bee. It's just buzzing away. It doesn't even know you're there. Criticising it makes you look stupid. Critic: Why did you fall over on stage, Richard? It looked stupid. Richard: Because I tripped on a cord. Critic: Oh. Ok. Um, sorry.

I think there are probably two types of un-reviewable theatre. One exists outside of any critical framework. The reviewer throws up the hands because "it was a mess" or "no-one could understand it". The other refutes critical ideas. It is this other one that I am interested in (because it is obviously better, and because good critics are very, very valuable and very worth listening to).

In post-world, we have seen everything, supposedly. This means we have a critical framework for everything. But of course we don't, and we haven't. Before there was post-modernism and timespace "shat itself" (Jameson) there was this idea that each moment that passes is one that has never been lived before. I.e it is not only possible to make new stuff, it's all new stuff. We are on a journey through time and space and that journey is most defintely linear - begins with birth, ends with death, and there's crap in the middle.

In this case, I do not care what you think of my performance. I am not an actor (see entry "Anti-Acting"). I do not pursue it, I do not practice it, I am "bad" at it. Because of this, I have a certain freedom on stage. The pressure that actors usually feel, about their careers, or about their ticket sales, I don't feel. Performing for me is kind of like farting in public - there are times when I have to do it, so I just do it, and I kind of hope no-one notices, and I kind of hope they do so I can feel proud/ashamed of it, and because then I will definitely exist.

I have set myself the horrible but totally acheivable task of remembering this monologue, which is 90 minutes long and I have learnt over the course of 4 weeks, and that is really the only task that I have. If I succeed at this, I have succeeded.

And so here's my challenge to you, critics - defy me. Find a way to hurt me. Go on. It's not my text, so if you criticise the text you are criticising Mike Daisey. I ain't no performer, so any criticism you make of my performance I can brush away by pointing that out. There is not really any props, I suppose you can criticise the water bottle I have with me or the yellow writing pad or the desk... but that's just how Mike sets his desk up. There is no stagecraft, apart from the couple of radio clips I've put on it at the beginning and the end, which you can criticise for being too long or too short... and I'm wearing an eco-friendly T-shirt that says "LIAR", but criticising all that's going to feel a tad heavy-handed given that the material is neccessary to give context to the monologue.

In fact, the only way you can criticise this happening negatively is to say that the whole thing was a waste of time, and to do that you have to engage with its ideas, you have to read up on Mike and the Chinese labourers, and the entire scandal, you have to work out what I intended by staging it, and by the time you've done all that you have engaged fully and completely with what the happening, which is exactly what all this is designed to acheive.

And then, in order to declare it a waste of time, you have to compare whatever time you've wasted to my time, which has been nights staying up until 5am posting on blogs in America, countless discussions with people in theatre foyers and on the street, days upon days of script-learning and commiting to memory, and wasting the time of work collegues, housemates, family, Sonja, anyone around me who has an ear as they have to listen to it... the time of Felix Ching Ching Ho who was incredibly busy but nevertheless manufactured time like they manufacture the iPhone, time I spent and asked for because I'm pretty sure all this is important.

So yeah. Chookas.


  1. Hmm, if we can experience it, we can review it, and someone probably will. You may be conveying someone else's message, but everything about the way you convey that message (including the fact that you chose to convey that message) is a reflection of you, and your skills and talent as a performer. It was your performance after all: an act full of your choices - from the venue you chose, the costumes and props you chose, the accent and style of reading you chose.

    I think it takes a lot of courage to put yourself out there on stage, to let yourself be subject to the scrutiny of an audience. The opinions of critics and the public in general can easily be unfair or uninformed or biased, and with our fancy new teh interwebs, there are so many ways to communicate our thoughts and opinions in a very public manner. It's easy for me to say "you have to have a thick skin", but it's true. It all comes down to your motivation for doing this in the first place, and whether it's strong enough to survive the barbs and arrows and still let you grow and flourish as a performer. You like to perform (and fart) in public... so you must crave that rush of seeing rapt attention and a smile that shows your performance has truly resonated with an audience: you do it in public after all!

    I saw The Eye Of The Storm on ABC recently, and it has a wicked conversation between Elizabeth, the mother (Charlotte Rampling) and son Basil (Geoffrey Rush).
    Elizabeth: How long since your last employment?
    Basil: I have several irons in the fire - in the West End. One especially exciting!
    Elizabeth: Don't expect me to come and see it!
    Basil: I stopped expecting that long ago Mother.
    Elizabeth: Oh Darling - you know I never come to see you because if you weren't any good, it would break my heart.
    Basil: But I just might be very good.
    Elizabeth: They printed the reviews of your King Lear in the Sydney papers.
    Basil: They thought enough of me over there to give me a knight-hood.
    Elizabeth: But that was before your King Lear.

    BTW, I thought your performance was great Richard - and I can't wait to see more. :)

  2. Hi Robert thanks for coming today

    Thanks for your encouraging words, but my doubt is actually not coming from a place of narcassism. I am thoroughly satisfied with my motivations for performing the text, yes I can say I gain some pleasure from it although it seems to occur almost accidentally - but my concern is with you, the viewer.

    Of course you can review it, but only badly. My point was that it is impossible to view this theatre-action negatively and to review it well. The usual things that reviewers look at - the "acting", the "character", the "writing" - these things are either not things which I have created, or have any bearing on my reasons for staging it. My reasons for staging it, and, I think, the entire reason for its existence at all, are outside of the play itself.

    Perhaps this can be seen as a comment on or response to this idea of "craft" or "professionalism" which is sold to you as part of your usual theatre-going experience. I am not sure. Though I certainly have my problems with this. I believe the objectives for theatre should remain firmly in the realm of attempting to share our existence through collective imagining. The other crap seems like it mostly just gets in the way of that??

  3. Rich,

    I will have to disagree with you on this post. This question of the "un-reviewable" I think is something that should NEVER be at the top of the concerns of a theatre / performance maker.

    I have a rule in my head (perhaps a silly one), that whenever I see or make something, 33% of the viewers will love it, 33% will hate it, and 33% won't care either way... so if this were to be partly true, it always takes me back to the fact that as a maker, what we should be concerned about is not how our work is perceived (as there will always be "haters"), but why it is important to share the work we make, what we are looking to learn from making it, and what new things we have discovered from making it at the end of the process.

    I really strongly believe that trying to make something "un-reviewable" is a bit of a cop out. I understand that this may be a way of protecting yourself from hearing and reading comments that you may disagree with or that may be hurtful about your work (after all, we do put a lot into making something new and some people may just not realise this), but the reality is, as you have already seen through your own work, that EVERYTHING is reviewable, whether you want / call it that or not.

    I question the integrity of A LOT of the work that is currently being made not only here but around the world by a lot of artists... if what you are going to make is going to be made to please and appeal to the taste of others (i.e. sell tickets), which is completely valid, then I think you need to make sure that you are aware of what your position as a maker is, because for me, someone who makes work with that aim (and you have to bare in mind that taste is very subjective; work that we praise here would not last more than a week in the theatres of Lima, Peru) is more an entertainer, rather than an artist (and there is absolutely nothing wrong with that). I think that someone who is really and deeply invested and interested in their practice should never be concerned about how others will receive their work... and this is why I would say to you that you should really not be worried about this at all yourself...

    I just wonder what kind of theatrical and artistic legacy we would have if people like Artaud, Castellucci, Lynch, Hirst, The Rabble, and so many others would have focused on making sure people 'liked' their work, or protecting themselves from others 'not liking it', rather than exploring and understanding the questions that each of them find / found fascinating...


  4. Thanks for posting Ivan :)

    "whenever I see or make something, 33% of the viewers will love it, 33% will hate it, and 33% won't care either way"

    This attitude negates critics from affecting the work. This is a problem I am trying to address.

    "I understand that this may be a way of protecting yourself from hearing and reading comments that you may disagree with"

    Far from it! Unreviewable theatre does not protect from anything, it attempts 1) to create work that is outside critical frames of reference, and 2) to engage critics in dialogue.

    "EVERYTHING is reviewable, whether you want / call it that or not"

    This is true. Equally, everyone is entitled to their opinion on the carbon tax. This does not mean that we have had a good conversation about it, or that anyone has acheived anything by talking about it.

    "made to please and appeal to the taste of others (i.e. sell tickets), which is completely valid,"

    Please tell me how this is completely valid? I do not think this is completely valid, and I don't think you do either. It is an Australian attitude to think like this, born out of economic myths. It is not an objective of art.

    "entertainer, rather than an artist (and there is absolutely nothing wrong with that"

    Iván, I feel like you are falling back on very Australian binaries here. There must be more possibilities for our work than merely "entertainer or artist". The terms themselves carry almost no meaning now, they are too vague. To "entertain" once meant a sort of suspension of an idea for contemplation or thought (as in "let me entertain that for a moment"). Today, it is often comfused with spectacularity, an idea which costs a lot of money and often acheives little more than a superficial impression and some nice photos for a CV. The "thought" component has disappeared.

    "should never be concerned about how others will receive their work"

    Let's be clear. I am not "concerned". I am DEMANDING that my work be criticised. I am demanding that critics come up with new frames of reference for whatever I am doing, as this review from Jason Whyte fails to do, (although I've nothing against his attempt). I am demanding that we move away from these ideas of "acting" or "design" or our own level of satisfaction, those horrible boxes which must be ticked!! Look at the actor merely as a citizen taking action, and to speculate well (BETTER!!!) on other ideas the action presents.

    I think that each of the groups/actors you mention have paid thorough attention to criticism, hand in hand with their own artistic impulse. Whilst I agree with your argument for the output of an artists coming purely from a place of impulse, I also think that this must feed into critical culture. I feel as though these lines of communication between artist and critic have completely broken down in our wunderkind naturalism fetish. It is a long-term thing. And the citizen is suffering. The spectator is uneducated, which is a politically dangerous outcome. There are only a few bastions which will actually try to subvert this. I refer you to Daniel Schlusser's recent production of The Histrionic, or theatrenotes.

    I feel as though the only writer to really "get" what I was doing was Andrew F, and he actually had precious little to say that was complimentary. Only "Pettifer makes an excellent fist of this performance, fluently rehearsing the more than ninety minutes of monologue into an entertaining provocation". That is the only thing he says about the acting, which is exactly as much attention as it deserves. The rest of his lengthy article is dedicated to exploring the "why?".

    Let us demand more from our critics - and from our audiences. Despite the timeliness and relevance of this work, only about 120 people saw it. I am surprised and ashamed at this.